2018 Chevrolet Equinox First Drive

Completely Redesigned Crossover Faces Stiff Competition

Competition in the compact crossover segment is fierce, so most entries get redesigned every four to six years. The previous Chevrolet Equinox went eight years without a redesign yet remained one of Chevrolet's top-selling models. A host of revamped rivals such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 have put the pressure on, however, so Chevrolet knew that it was time to give the Equinox a shot in the arm. The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox features more refined powertrains, higher-quality interior materials and better smartphone integration among other things, all of which make it more competitive than ever before.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Under the Skin
At first glance, the new Equinox doesn't look much different from its predecessor. The grille and headlights resemble the front fascias of other Chevrolets (especially the Cruze sedan), but the shape of the windows are similar to the previous design. The older Equinox skirted the line between a compact and midsize SUV, but this model is 6 inches shorter in length, which firmly plants it in the compact category. The shrinkage has left critical measurements including cargo volume mostly unaffected, though the storage area is smaller than what you'll find in a Ford Escape or Honda CR-V. Front and rear headroom have been reduced marginally, but we found that a 6-foot passenger will have no problem sitting behind a 6-foot driver.

In addition to its spacious interior, the Equinox also boasts a vastly improved interior design and materials. The new center console is much less button-heavy than before, consisting of a two-tier stack with infotainment controls on top and climate controls below. The standard 7-inch touchscreen is equipped with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi and Chevy's intuitive MyLink operating system. An 8-inch screen is offered on upper trims along with a Bose audio system and onboard navigation.

On lower trims, the Equinox features an abundance of textured plastics and seats covered in cloth upholstery. The seats are designed for maximum durability, but they're actually quite comfortable over the long haul. Opting for the Premier adds perforated leather upholstery to the seats and leather surfaces with contrasting stitching to the dashboard and doors.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Everything Is Turbocharged
In the interest of maximum fuel efficiency, the 2018 Equinox only uses turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The range starts with a 1.5-liter gas engine that's matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. It's rated to produce 170 horsepower and 203 pound-feet of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 26 mpg combined when equipped with optional all-wheel drive. These estimates are 1-2 mpg better than those of base engines in competing vehicles.

If that's not enough power for you, there are two alternatives. One is a 1.6-liter diesel engine that serves up 137 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque. Chevy says it'll earn 40 mpg on the highway on front-wheel-drive models. For those who crave even more performance, a 2.0-liter gas engine is optional. It's mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission that puts out a healthy 252 hp and 260 lb-ft. Only the base engine will be available at first, but the diesel and the more powerful 2.0-liter gas engine will be added to the lineup in the summer of 2017.

What's It Like to Drive?
Our initial test drive occurred in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, which did not play to the Equinox's strengths. The seats don't provide much lateral support, so you'll find the side bolster suddenly sticking into the middle of your back if you take a turn with too much gusto. The tires squealed on turns taken within the speed limit, though the steering proved to be predictable. The elevation changes highlighted the lack of power on tap from the 1.5-liter engine and the reluctance of the six-speed automatic to downshift. It's safe to say the more powerful 2.0-liter and torque-rich diesel will offer vastly better driving experiences. When not in the tight curves of the mountains, the Equinox impressed with a quiet, comfortable ride that shrugged off bumpy pavement with aplomb.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Which Trims Will Be Offered?
There will be four levels of trim available with the standard 1.5-liter engine. The base L version (MSRP $24,475) includes 17-inch wheels, heated mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, full power accessories, a rearview camera and the 7-inch touchscreen with all its tech gadgetry. However, this trim is a special order; you won't find it on a dealer lot. You will, however, find the LS ($26,405) at the local dealership, which adds rear floor mats, a spare tire, a digital compass and a wider range of exterior colors. Next up is the LT ($27,645), which equips the Equinox with xenon headlights, tinted rear glass, a power-adjustable driver seat, remote levers for folding the rear seat and satellite radio. It also opens the door to additional equipment packages. Lastly, the top-level Premier ($31,685) adds 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a power liftgate, heated front seats, leather upholstery, the 8-inch touchscreen, blind-spot monitoring and more. Additional available features include navigation, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof and a 360-degree parking camera.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

How Does It Stack Up Against the Competition?
In order to compete in this class, the Equinox needs to deliver a roomy cabin, plenty of cargo space, fuel-efficient engines and, above all else, an affordable window sticker. For the most part, the Equinox delivers. Four adults fit comfortably with a middle jump seat appropriate for occasional use. The cargo area isn't the largest in the segment, and neither is the engine the most fuel-efficient. However, both are close enough to segment leaders to keep the Equinox in the running.

Pricing is the Equinox's weak point. While the Equinox technically starts at $24,475, dealers will likely stock the LS, which puts it at the $26,405 mark. A similarly priced Honda CR-V EX also includes a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine (though its continuously variable automatic transmission's quick responses make it feel much faster than the Equinox) and it comes with features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and a sunroof. The base Mazda CX-5 is less expensive than the Equinox, and a Ford Escape at the same price is better equipped.

Given the competence (and overall lower price tags) of its rivals, the Equinox has a challenging road ahead. But its agreeable ride, fuel-sipping engine lineup and vastly upgraded interior certainly keep it in the game.

2018 Chevrolet Equinox